Skip to main content

Rocket Lab aces its first launch from U.S. soil

Rocket Lab has completed its maiden mission from its new launch site in the U.S., marking a big step forward for the company as it seeks to better compete with the likes of SpaceX.

The Virginia is for Launch Lovers mission lifted off from Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Tuesday evening.

The spaceflight company used its trusty Electron rocket to deploy three satellites for Hawkeye 360, a radio frequency geospatial analytics company, to an orbit of 342 miles (550 kilometers) above Earth.

It means Rocket Lab has now launched 33 Electron missions from three different pads in two countries — the U.S. and New Zealand — deploying a total of 155 satellites to orbit.

Rocket Lab livestreamed the mission, which showed the early stages of the Electron’s flight. You can watch the launch below. There was, however, a longer than usual — and rather tense — wait for confirmation of the mission’s success. The delay was put down to a ground station malfunction that temporarily prevented communications between the satellite and the team on the ground. Thankfully, around 90 minutes after launch, a relieved team was able to confirm that everything had gone to plan.

Rocket Lab Debut Launch from LC-2 - 'Virginia Is For Launch Lovers'

Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck tweeted his joy at the mission’s success, thanking everyone involved.

100% mission success, huge congratulations to the Rocket Lab team, @NASA_Wallops @Virginia_Space @FAANews @hawkeye360. Looks like everything works in the northern hemisphere also.

— Peter Beck (@Peter_J_Beck) January 25, 2023

Now with two launch complexes in two countries, the SpaceX rival says it will be able to support more than 130 launches annually for government and commercial satellite operators.

Besides expanding its satellite-launch service using the Electron, Rocket Lab is also building its next-generation rocket, the Neutron, which will also launch from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, with its first test launch targeted for 2024.

Emulating SpaceX and its successful Falcon 9 rocket, the Neutron’s first-stage booster is designed to return to Earth and make an upright landing so that it can be used for multiple missions. This allows Rocket Lab to slash costs and offer competitive prices to customers keen to deploy satellites in space. The Neutron will also be capable of interplanetary missions and even crewed spaceflight.

Editors' Recommendations

Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
NASA cracks open its first sample from an asteroid, foiling two sticky screws
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx curation engineer, Neftali Hernandez, attaches one of the tools developed to help remove two final fasteners that prohibited complete disassembly of the TAGSAM (Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism) head that holds the remainder of material collected from asteroid Bennu. Engineers on the team, based at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, developed new tools that freed the fasteners on Jan. 10.

NASA returned its first sample of an asteroid to Earth last year, landing a sample collected from asteroid Bennu in the Utah desert in September. Researchers were able to extract 70 grams of material from the canister that had been carried back to Earth by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, making this the largest asteroid sample ever brought to Earth. The scientists involved knew there was more material inside the mechanism, but getting at it proved difficult -- until now, as NASA has announced it has now managed to open up the troublesome mechanism.

You might think it would be an easy job to unscrew a canister and dump out the material inside, but extraction was a lengthy and technical process. That's because the focus was on preserving as much of the precious sample as possible, trying not to let any of the particles get lost. The issue was with two of the 25 fasteners that held the sample inside the collection mechanism.  The mechanism is kept inside a glove box to prevent any loss, and there were only certain tools available that worked with the glove box. So when the fasteners wouldn't open with the tools they had, the team couldn't just go at them with any other tool.

Read more
Five rocket launches to look out for in 2024
SpaceX's Starship rocket lifting off in November 2023.

This year promises a bunch of launches featuring new rockets from a range of operators. Let's take a look at five notable rocket launches that are sure to make headlines over the coming months:
ULA’s Vulcan Centaur

The first of these takes place on Monday, January 8, with United Launch Alliance conducting the maiden launch of its brand-new Vulcan Centaur rocket. The 202-feet-tall (61.6-meter) vehicle will launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on a mission to become the first to land a privately built lander on the moon.

Read more
How to watch the first U.S. commercial moon mission launch tonight
A ULA Vulcan on the launchpad at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Jan. 8 LIVE Broadcast: Vulcan Cert-1

A new Vulcan Centaur rocket operated by United Launch Alliance (ULA) is on the launchpad at the Kennedy Space Center as final preparations are being made for what’s set to be a historic mission.

Read more